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Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Martha

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(Μαρθά , of unknown signification, but a Syriac prop. name [מִרְתָּא ] according to Plutarch, Vit. Mar. 17), a Jewess, the sister of Lazarus and Mary, who resided in the same house with them at Bethany (Luke 10:38; Luke 10:40-41; John 11:1-39; John 12:2). (See LAZARUS). From the house at Bethany being called "her house," in Luke 10:38, and from the leading part which Martha is always seen to take in domestic matters, it has seemed to some that she was a widow, to whom the house at Bethany belonged, and with whom her brother and sister lodged; but this is uncertain, and the common opinion that the sisters managed the household of their brother is more probable. Jesus was intimate with this family, and their house was often his home when at Jerusalem, being accustomed to retire thither in the evening, after having spent the day in the city. The point which the evangelists bring out most distinctly with respect to Martha lies in the contrariety of disposition between her and her sister Mary. The first notice of Christ's visiting this family occurs in Luke 10:38-42. He was received with great attention by the sisters, and Martha soon hastened to provide suitable entertainment for the Lord and his followers, while Mary remained in his presence, sitting at his feet, and drinking in the sacred words that fell from his lips. The active, bustling solicitude of Martha, anxious that the best things in the house should be made subservient to the Master's use and solace, and the quiet earnestness of Mary, more desirous to profit by the golden opportunity of hearing his instructions than to minister to his personal wants, strongly mark the points of contrast in the characters of the two sisters. (See bishop Hall's observations on this subject in his Contemplaitions, 3:4, Nos. 17, 23, 24.) She needs the reproof, "One thing is needful;" but her love, though imperfect in its form, is yet recognized as true, and she too, no less than Lazarus and Mary, has the distinction of being one whom Jesus loved (John 11:3). The part taken by the sisters in the transactions connected with the death and resurrection of Lazarus (John 11:20-40) is entirely and beautifully in accordance with their previous history (see Tholuck, Comment. ad loc.). The facts recorded of her indicate a character devout after the customary Jewish type of devotion, sharing in Messianic hopes and accepting Jesus as the Christ; sharing also in the popular belief in a resurrection, but not rising, as her sister did, to the belief that Christ was making the eternal life to belong, not to the future only, but to the present. Nothing more is recorded of Martha save that some time after, at a supper given to Christ and his disciples at Bethany, she, as usual, busied herself in the external service. Lazarus, so marvelously restored from the grave, sat with her guests at table. "Martha served," and Mary occupied her favorite station at the feet of Jesus, which she bathed with her tears, and anointed with costly ointment (John 12:1-2). (See MARY).

Notwithstanding the seeming drawbacks upon Martha's character, so vividly painted in the Gospels, there can be no doubt of her genuine piety and love for the Savior. A.D. 29. See Niemeyer, Charakt. 1:66; and Schulthess, Neueste theol. Nachricht, 1828, 2:413. According to tradition, she went with her brother and other disciples to Marseilles, gathered round her a society of devout women, and, true to her former character, led them to a life of active ministration. The wilder Provengal legends make her victorious over a dragon that laid waste the country. The town of Tarascon boasted of possessing her remains, and claimed her as its patron saint (Acta Sanctorum, and Brev. Roen. in Jul. 29; Fabricii Lux Evangel. p. 388).

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Martha'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/m/martha.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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